AFTER Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Armenia, the Republic of Ireland’s attention turns to Wednesday’s meeting with Ukraine at the Aviva Stadium.
Stephen Kenny’s side, who are aiming to win their Nations League group, were undone by a stunning strike by Eduard Spertsyan in the second half.
His goal settled a tense game in Eastern Europe which Ireland dominated from the whistle.
Ireland played in their traditional 3-5-2 at the Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium but they couldn’t break down a well-disciplined Armenian defence.
They did force a number of chances, like Chiedozie Ogbene’s free header at the start of the second half, but each time the ball seemed to go narrowly wide.
Even Shane Duffy, who is an expert finisher from set pieces, couldn’t turn the ball in towards the target.
It was a uncharacteristic performance by an Irish team who travelled to Armenia on the back of an eight game undefeated run.
Despite the sucker punch of a defeat, the team will be raring to go in front of a large home crowd on Wednesday evening.
Kenny’s side will be boosted by the fact that they haven’t lost in Dublin since the Luxembourg qualifier in March 2021.
Since then they have won two and drawn four games at the Aviva Stadium. This run has seen memorable draws against Belgium and Portugal and a 4-0 win over Qatar, who are reigning Asian Cup champions.
The main worry for Kenny is the fitness of goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu, who sat on the bench on Saturday.
The shot-stopper, who regularly starts for his country, missed out in Armenia over a back injury.
Caoimhín Kelleher was given his first competitive start and he had a fine game in Armenia. The goalkeeper stopped everything that went his way and he cannot be faulted for Spertsyan’s driven shot from distance.
Ireland, who aim to top their UEFA Nations League group, know that they have a tough task after Saturday’s defeat.
“We’ve made life difficult for ourselves,” Stephen Kenny said after the game, “We have to focus on bouncing back against Ukraine on Wednesday. We have two home games against Ukraine and Scotland we have to dust ourselves down.
“We’re disappointed with ourselves and we know it is a poor result. We’re well aware of that and we have to dust ourselves down for Wednesday.” The defeat means that Ireland have now gone eleven games without a win in the UEFA Nations League.
They will be hoping to make things right against a Ukrainian team that just lost to Wales in the play-off round for the 2022 World Cup.
At the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, a first half Andriy Yarmolenko own goal ended their hopes of going to Qatar in the winter.
Before this shock defeat in the Welsh capital, Ukraine were a form team who regularly frustrated some of the biggest teams in Europe.
In their play-off semi-final against Scotland, they raced into a two goal lead and defended gallantly at Hampden Park. When Callum McGregor scored in the 79th minute the team didn’t panic. They remained compact and in the fifth minute of injury time, Artem Dovbyk’s broke and scored, making it 3-1.
At Euro 2020; Ukraine qualified from a group containing the Netherlands, Austria, and North Macedonia. Sweden were disposed of in the round of sixteen and that result sent them through to the quarter finals, where England beat them 4-0. This was their best ever performance at the European Championships, and the momentum carried into their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Ukraine drew with France twice and they finished the group stages unbeaten. They also scored eleven goals with a squad stacked with stars.
Their most high profile player is three time Premier League champion Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Manchester City midfielder has also won four EFL Cups, one FA Cup, and he played in the 2021 Champions League final against Chelsea.
Zinchenko will feature alongside Andriy Yarmolenko, who recently reached the Europa League semi-finals with West Ham.
Benfica’s Roman Yaremchuk is expected to start up front. The striker reached the Champions League quarter finals with his club this season. He also led the line for Ukraine during their World Cup qualifying campaign. He scored three goals for his country in the group stages and he got one against Scotland in the play-off semi-final.
This team only has a three day turnaround between their loss to Wales and their meeting with Ireland in Dublin.